When a medical problem is the likely culprit
There are a few ways to tell the difference between spinal stenosis and something more serious:
Pain that gets worse when going uphill is more common with peripheral arterial disease, a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels leading to the your limbs.
Arterial disease patients don’t get relief from the “grocery cart” position.
If your symptoms are worse at night but better with exercise, neuropathy may be to blame.
In younger people, morning stiffness that lasts longer than 30 minutes and gets worse with stillness may be a sign of inflammatory arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis.
Spinal stenosis is one of the most common causes of spinal pain not related to injury. This narrowing of the space around the spinal cord puts pressure on the nerves. If you have the following symptoms, spinal stenosis may be to blame:
Pain in the lower back
Cramping in the legs
A heavy feeling in the legs, which may lead to trouble walking
Increased pain going downhill
Symptoms that get worse with activity
Try physical therapy.
Stretching and strengthening can help support your back, improve your balance and ease the pressure on your nerves.
Ask your doctor about medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers may help. Some patients also find success with anti-seizure drugs such as Neurontin — also used for neuropathy.
Consider steroid injections. Corticosteroids can reduce the inflammation and irritation that cause symptoms. They’re usually not a first resort because they can weaken bones and tissue over time.
Know that surgery is an option. When more conservative treatments do not work, certain procedures can reduce symptoms.